THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
An introduction to “the sufferings of Christ”, looking at the moral, sympathetic, official, interpersonal, martyrdom, anticipative, and atoning aspects of His sufferings, and noting the differences between sufferings at the hands of men and of God.
The Importance of Christ’s Sufferings. There is hardly any subject more precious to those who believe than the sufferings of Christ. In the sufferings of Christ we see:
- the Person and Work of Christ in many wonderful aspects,
- the awful hatred and enmity of the flesh, the world, and Satan,
- the groundwork laid for “the glory that should follow”.
A Christian cannot have a right appreciation for either the love of Christ or the gravity of sin without an understanding of this vast and sacred subject. My purpose is to share a few of the high points that I have come to enjoy.
Christ’s Sufferings and Glories seen in the Old Testament. The Lord, when speaking to the two on the road to Emmaus, reminded them of how the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow are central to the Old Testament scriptures.
“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:25-27
The Jewish mind tended to overlook those scriptures concerning His sufferings, and focused only on the glories. Peter wrote of “the sufferings of Christ, AND the glory that should follow”. The word ‘and’ covers 2000 years. This failure to see the sufferings of Christ was a great stumbling-block to Israel who was looking for a popular Messiah; one who would carry himself with worldly pomp and glory. Instead, Isaiah wrote of Him; “he hath no form nor lordliness, and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2).
The first prophetic mention of the sufferings of Christ is in the third chapter of Genesis:
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15
The “seed” of the serpent is none other than that wicked generation which cried “away with him, crucify him!” The woman’s “seed” refers to Christ (see Gal. 4:4). The prophetic scripture looked on to the time when Christ, the man of God’s councils, would crush the serpent’s head. But in the same sentence, it was added that the serpent would bruise His heel. This “bruising” is the first specific mention of the sufferings of Christ; although we might have an earlier picture in Genesis 2, with Adam’s deep sleep and the removal of a rib from his side.
Later in the Pentateuch we read of thousands of sacrifices, which all speak of Christ and His sufferings. Why so many different animals? It is because no single animal could give the full type of our suffering Savior. For example; in the bullock we see strength, in the lamb we see meekness, in the goat we see vitality, and in the bird we see that the sacrifice has come down from heaven.
A New Testament Occupation. Israel could not see the meaning of their own sacrifices; they “could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished” (2 Cor. 3:13). The Old Testament prophets themselves did not understand the subject that they handled by the Spirit of God. They wrote these prophecies down, and then read them in puzzlement. They realized their message was not for them, but for people that should be born after. The law was but “a shadow of good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). The “best wine”; i.e. the full understanding has been left for us who are indwelt with the Spirit of God.
“Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.” 1 Pet. 1:9-12
Peter says that the sufferings and glories of Christ are the “things the angels desire to look into”. They are intensely interested in the willingness of their Master to subject Himself to shame and suffering, and of the heights of glory for which He is destined. We need to approach this immense subject with the same interest yet holy reverence that the angels have as they desire to look into them. And yet we look into the sufferings of Christ with a far more personal interest… they were accomplished for us!
◉ ◉ ◉
There are a number of aspects to the sufferings of Christ, and they are important to distinguish. For example, the sufferings of Jesus on the cross at the hands of man did not take away our sins. What took away our sins was His sufferings in the three hours of darkness at the hands of God. I will look at seven aspects of Christ’s sufferings, but please understand that this article is by no means anything more than an introduction to this vast and sacred subject.
Aspect #1. Moral Sufferings
Christ’s Moral Sufferings are what the Lord felt because of who He was as a holy Man in a world of sin. Sometimes these sufferings are called His constitutional sufferings.
Christ’s Groaning. We see the moral sufferings of Christ never so clearly as in John 11, at the grave of Lazarus. Twice over, the moral sufferings of Christ caused Him to groan; once in vv.33-34, and again in vv.37-38 for a different reason. The word “groaning” is interesting in the original. There is no easy English equivalent. The actual word is ‘thundered-in’… an inward thundering. It could have been somewhere between a muttering and a snorting noise, but the point is not so much the noise as the internal suffering in His soul.
- John 11:33-34. Here we find Jesus suffering in His spirit because of the effects of sin in God’s creation. He saw the sorrow that death had brought to Mary and the others, and it troubled him. This was coupled with deep sympathy for them, and it resulted in His shedding tears.
“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled… “(John 11:33-34).
- John 11:37-38. Here we find the Lord suffering upon feeling the callousness produced in the hearts of others, the sisters of Bethany, who not only misunderstood Him (like Mary and Martha) but positively disbelieved Him. They were blind to who He really was! Their words produced the second groan from the heart of Jesus.
“And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave.” (John 11:37-38).
It may be a similar thought to Romans 8, where (1) the creation groans unintelligently under the bondage of corruption, (2) the believer groans with a measure of intelligence, and (3) the Spirit of God groans with perfect intelligence within us, because the Spirit is able to perfectly express to God what we feel but are unable to articulate.
Grieved for the hardness of their hearts. When Jesus saw religious corruption, it produced moral suffering in His soul. Throughout the gospels, whenever Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, the true moral condition of the hard-hearted Jews was manifested. For instance, the Pharisees had no love for the man with the withered hand. They would readily break the Sabbath if their own commercial interests were at stake, yet they would not lift a finger to relieve their fellow man.
But Jesus, “When he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.” (Mark 3:5)
Our Fellowship with Christ in Moral Suffering. In this aspect of suffering we can “suffer with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). In Matthew 5:4 we find that one of the beatitudes is a mournful spirit concerning the low moral condition around us.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4)
The Lord felt the low moral condition in Israel more than anyone else. There was nothing else the Man from heaven could do when He saw this world of sin and suffering, but mourn. Even Lot, who was in a very compromising position, suffered in part with what was fully felt by our Lord;
“For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 Peter 2:8)
Aspect #2. Sympathetic Sufferings
Christ’s Sympathetic Sufferings are what Christ felt as He sympathized with others in their circumstances. There are at least two reasons for these sufferings: (1) His deep compassion for others, and (2) that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest.
With joy we meditate the grace
Of God’s High Priest above;
His heart is filled with tenderness,
His very name is Love.
Touched with a sympathy within,
He knows our feeble frame:
He knows what sorest trials mean,
For He has felt the same.
Carrying the Sorrows and Cares of Others. The prophetic scriptures speak of how the Messiah would pass through the sorrows and griefs of life to be able to sympathize with His people. He carried the sorrows and cares of others on His heart;
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” (Isa. 53:4)
Isa. 53:4 is quoted in Matthew in connection with the Lord’s physically healing the crowds, which gives us a remarkable insight into the healings performed by our Lord.
“When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” (Matt. 8:16-17)
He bore on His heart the suffering of those whom he healed. It wasn’t like a rich man handing out nickels… at no cost to Himself. No, every sorrow and grief Jesus took away was carried on His heart. What a comfort!
Tears of Sympathy. The sympathetic suffering in the Lord’s soul produced real, human tears. We see this clearly at the grave of Lazarus. Earlier we read of Mary and the Jews “wailing” or “sobbing”… but this word is simply, “shed tears”. It was not hysteria that produced those tears, but deep feeling in His own Person, feeling their anguish in Himself as a man. The cause of those tears was unmistakable… they sprang from the Lord’s heart of love as a perfect man among men.
“Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:35-36).
Fitting Him to be a Sympathetic High Priest. Now we come to the second reason; Christ’s sympathetic sufferings prepared Him to be a sympathetic High Priest to those who believe on Him. It is fitting for a captain in the army to have gone through all the routines that a soldier goes through, so that when the captain gives commands, he can do so having perfect understanding of the experience. The captain would never ask his soldiers to do something that he wouldn’t do himself or hasn’t gone through himself. In the same way, there isn’t anything we can go through that the Lord doesn’t understand. That’s the kind of captain that God has prepared for us!
“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. … that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. … For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.“ (Heb. 2:10, 17-18; 4:15)
Connection between Sympathetic and Atoning Sufferings. It is interesting that all through scripture the sympathetic sufferings are mentioned often connected with Christ’s atoning sufferings. Yet they are clearly distinct.
||“that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest”
||“to make propitiation for the sins of the people”
||“make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings”
“deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”
||“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows”
||“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities”
||“In all their affliction he was afflicted”
||“in his love and in his pity he redeemed them”
Aspect #3. Official Sufferings
Christ’s Official Sufferings are connected not so much with the Person of our Lord, but with His Messianic offices. When the Lord came into this world according to the seed of David, He had a people (Israel). He had certain rights with respect to Israel that were denied Him. In this way He suffered officially.
Denied a Place of Acceptance. What a welcome He might have expected as the rightful King of Israel! But He was utterly rejected. There was no room for Him in the inn. As He walked the dusty paths of Judea, the hatred of the Jews was progressively aroused until they fully intend to kill. The Lord’s faithfulness only yielded rejection.
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11)
Here was Jehovah of the Old Testament, the One who had borne with their murmurings and backslidings, now as a man, on earth! He speaks of the reproach He suffered from His own people, for His faithfulness to Jehovah.
“I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.” (Psalm 69:8-9)
Denied His Rights as Messiah. Not only was He denied acceptance from His own people, but He was denied the rightful privileges that belonged to Him. In Psa. 102 we have the voice of the Messiah as a man on earth, with all in ruins around Him, and the cross before Him. All that naturally belonged to Him as Messiah was outwardly on the verge of being lost. In His distress He cried out that God would not take Him out in the middle of His life, before He could accomplish the redemption of Israel.
“I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.” (Psa. 102:24)
The answer from Jehovah is precious; “Thy years are from generation to generation.” But, as a man, He was cut off (Dan. 9:26), and “had nothing” of those messianic rights that belonged to Him.
“And after the sixty-two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing…” (Dan. 9:26)
Watched His Beloved City Seal their Fate. As the rightful Messiah, He suffered in being denied His heart’s desire toward the Jews, and in knowing what they were about to lose when His presence was removed from them. He could lament over Jerusalem, that city which He loved. He wept (Luke 19) because His beloved city had said to Him, “we don’t want you”.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those that are sent unto her, how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate; for I say unto you, Ye shall in no wise see me henceforth until ye say, Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matt. 23:37-39)
“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee…” (Luke 19:41-44)
Aspect #4. Interpersonal Sufferings
Christ’s Interpersonal Sufferings are what Christ endured in an emotional, social, or interpersonal way. These sufferings are not so much connected with His office of King, but with His Person as rejected, despised, etc. by fellow men. These interpersonal sufferings were felt by the Lord all through His life on earth, but they intensified as He neared the cross. Examples would be the loneliness and rejection the Lord felt, even by those He was closest to.
Treachery from the ruling class. The scripture speaks of the “contradiction of sinners” that was against Christ. This refers to the wicked speech that was constantly directed toward the Savior.
“For consider well him who endured so great contradiction from sinners against himself, that ye be not weary, fainting in your minds.” (Heb. 12:3)
Routinely, they would strategize His demise, and sent unto Him “certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words” (Mark 12:13). Can you imagine being hunted your whole life long, without just cause? The plotting and scheming of the Sanhedrin only intensified toward the end of our Lord’s public ministry. In the final days, the Lord experienced a sense of being surrounded by enemies. He expresses this in Psalm 22, as being surrounded by bulls (Jewish enemies), and dogs (Gentile enemies).
“Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. … For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me, etc.” (Psa. 22:11-13, 16)
During His trials, the Lord was led from one judgment hall to another. All the evidence pointed to His innocence, but the rulers of the Jews would not give up until they got a guilty verdict. Isaiah 53:7-8 speaks of His perfect harmlessness during those trials, as He was led from place to place.
Denial by One of His Own Disciples. The Savior suffered not only from the leaders of apostate Israel, but from those He knew. Peter, one of His own disciples, denied Him three times. Previously, Peter had said “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” The Lord knew that Peter was leaning on his own strength in this boast, and would surely fall. Yet the denial, when it finally came, wounded the Lord’s heart.
“And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:60-62)
He felt all these interpersonal things more deeply than we feel them. This is because He did not have the sinful nature that we have, which tends to stifle the emotions, and harden one’s heart against pain. It was bitter sorrow for Peter when he realized that he had denied the Lord. How much more did the Lord Jesus feel it.
Desertion by all of His Disciples. Peter was not alone in his fleshly boast. We find in Matt. 26:35, that following Peter’s boast; “Likewise also said all the disciples.” But the other disciples were no greater or stronger than Peter. When at last the great multitude came with swords and staves, it says “Then ALL the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matt. 26:56). How sad to think that when our Lord’s darkest hour was fast approaching, at that time His own disciples forsook Him.
The Loneliness of Christ. One by one, those interpersonal comforts that naturally strengthen the human spirit were removed. At last Jesus was left alone:
- Alone “like a pelican of the wilderness”,
- Alone “like an owl of the desert”,
- Alone “like a sparrow upon the house top.” Psalm 102:6-7
“I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” (Psa. 69:20)
And yet, while He was forsaken by man, the Lord still had the fellowship of His Father; “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). But, in the abandonment of the last three dark hours, even that fellowship was taken away.
Betrayal by one of His own Disciples. Peter’s denial was one thing, but Judas’ betrayal was quite another. In the case of Peter, the Lord knew his heart, that down deep Peter had affection for Him. But He also knew Judas’ heart. It has been well said; “the worst thing about betrayal is that it comes from your friend”. The Lord was betrayed by one of His own. In John 13 we are given the fact; “Jesus was troubled in spirit” (John 13:21). It was a deep, deep sorrow that He felt in anticipating betrayal by one of His closest friends. In the Psalms we get the expressions of the Lord’s heart. We find that the betrayal was particularly hurtful to Christ because of His closeness to Judas.
“Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” (Psa. 41:9)
“For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.”(Psa. 55:12-14)
Prophetically, we find out in Zechariah what “the Master” really meant to Judas. The price Judas was willing to agree on for His betrayal was what the Lord was worth to him. “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12). Thirty pieces of silver was the price of a good slave… how sad.
“And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.” (Psa. 109:5)
Hatred without Cause. As human beings, we all have two basic needs; to be loved, and to be understood. The Lord had neither from men. Those who loved Him did not understand Him. Those who understood Him, hated Him. In Psa. 69 we hear the Lord’s voice crying out in anguish as He felt the reproach from every hateful foe. Where did the hatred come from? It came from Satan, the world, and the flesh. The Lord was hated almost universally. The scorn came from rich and poor, wise and simple. Did He feel it? Their hatred was without cause, their enmity was wrong; but did that discount the suffering it caused our Blessed Lord? No. His heart was broken by the reproach.
“They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty…” (Psalm 69:4)
“They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards.” (Psalm 69:20)
“Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness.” (Psalm 69:12)
Dehumanizing Treatment. Not only was Christ denied His glory as Messiah and as Son of God, but He was denied basic humanitarian treatment. We see this particularly in the judgment hall scenes and on the cross. It would not be right to neglect this aspect of His sufferings.
As He hung on the cross, the soldiers divided His garments into four parts (one for each soldier) and gambled for His coat (Psalm 22:18). This was all done before His very eyes. One great thing that differentiates humans from animals is that we wear clothing. But there, at the foot of the cross, those last memoirs of human identity were stripped from Him.
“They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” (Psalm 22:18)
Another form of dehumanizing treatment was the games they played at His expense (and we might add, to their eternal loss; Luke 22:64).
“And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?” (Luke 22:64)
The blindfold was no hindrance to the Creator of the universe. He could have answered that question, and done much worse to those cruel men.
They mocked His claim to the throne of David with a crown of thorns, and reed-scepter, and a scarlet robe. They bowed before Him in mockery, saying facetiously, “Hail, King of the Jews!”. One day they will be forced to bow, and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but in the meantime, the Lord suffered these indignities in humble patience.
“And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matt. 27:28-29)
Just before the Lord was crucified, the soldiers taunted the hungry and thirsty Man with vinegar and gall. Vinegar was wine that had gone bad and become nauseous and unfit to drink. Gall or “bile” is a bitter and poisonous plant, perhaps the Poppy, which grows abundantly in Palestine. It was offered to those who were about to die in mockery, because the poison would stupefy the brain in those moments of agony. The Lord tasted it… felt the bitterness of human ingratitude, but would not drink of it (Matt. 27:34). He would accept no alleviation of the pain. The cruel soldiers were not content with merely refusing to give Jesus refreshment; instead they aggravated and embittered His sufferings by offering Him poisonous food and revolting drink. In short, they treated Him worse than an animal. Note: a different word for “vinegar” is used in Matt. 27:48, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36 and John 19:30. There it was a thin wine that, while not pleasant to drink, was somewhat refreshing. It was the cheapest beverage available. In Luke 23:36, the soldiers mocked the Lord by offering Him a drink… but their offer was in jest. At the end of three hours of darkness, the Lord did drink what was brought to Him after saying, “I thirst”, that the scripture might be fulfilled (John 19:28).
“They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psa. 69:21)
Whether it was those who sat down to watch Him suffer, or those who passed by Him and jeered, the animal cruelty of the spectators must have produced tremendous suffering in His soul.
“And sitting down they watched him there; … And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads.” (Matt. 27:36, 39)
Dishonored as Son of God. To me, this last form of interpersonal suffering is the worst. It came from the Sanhedrin;
“Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” (Matt. 27:41-43)
What is most awful about this suffering is that they were calling into question His identity as the Son of God, and His eternal relationship to the Father! Wouldn’t God deliver His own Son, if Jesus were really His Son? And He had to let that stand unanswered, not because it was true – nothing could be further from the truth – but because He had a deeper motive. What suffering that must have caused in His inmost being. But what was the true reason He could not save Himself? One hymn (L.F. #257) so beautifully describes the reasons why He could not save Himself; all of which are well supported by scripture. “Himself He could not save;” because He must:
- Satisfy the righteous claims of a Holy God:
For justice must be done;
Our sins’ full weight must fall
Upon the sinless One;
- Stand in our place, as our Substitute, and our Surety:
For He the Surety stood,
For all who now rely,
Upon His precious blood;
- The highest motive of all; love and devotion to His Father;
Obedience to His Father’s will,
And love to Him did all fulfil.
That is why He did not save Himself. That is why He hung there in silence while the seed of the serpent railed against Him. For Him to let that insult stand caused soul-suffering beyond our comprehension. But God be praised, that insult has been answered in the resurrection and glorification of His Son!
Aspect #5. Martyrdom Sufferings
Christ’s Martyrdom Sufferings are what our Lord suffered as an innocent victim of man’s cruelty, especially in the last week leading up to the cross, which is often called the Passion Week. These sufferings were not only physical. We must remember that the Lord perfectly felt the wicked intentions behind the physical pain that men inflicted on His body.
Also, when making a dichotomy between the Lord’s physical sufferings and atoning sufferings we must be clear that the atoning sufferings had a physical component as well. He bore our sins “in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). Not only that, but Hebrews 10:10 says “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. Furthermore, when Christ was forsaken of God, He cried “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me“… He refers to Himself; spirit, soul, and body. This is why I chose the term “martyrdom sufferings”; to be clear, we are speaking of the sufferings of our Lord at the hands of men.
It is not my purpose to go into extreme detail on the martyrdom sufferings of Christ. Much of it we are not told. In Christendom there is often an unscriptural over-emphasis laid on the sufferings of Christ as a martyr. Many attribute the work of atonement to the martyrdom sufferings, but that is a false notion. In fact, an entire movie has been produced, titled “The Passion of Christ
” in which the martyrdom sufferings of Christ are highlighted. But all those sufferings never atoned for one sin. The atoning work was done in the three hours of darkness; and therefore it was hidden from the eyes of men.
The First Occurrence. The first occurrence of physical violence to our Lord’s Person is referenced in John 18. Incidentally, reading this verse was what triggered a heightened interest in me to study this subject.
“And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?” (John 18:22)
For the very first time, the Son of God was struck by a human being. Standing before the high priest, having been falsely accused, an officer struck Him with the palm of his hand. What sorrow passed through His heart at that moment? He had given that officer breath and strength. That man’s very existence was owed to the blessed Lord who stood before him. There it happened, with all of heaven’s hosts looking down, for the first time, the Creator purposely injured by His creature. As angelic hosts awaited His call, how their hearts must have panged at the sight… heaven’s Beloved One struck by a sinful, mortal man.
Abuse in the Judgment Halls. The abuse only continued in the trials of our Lord. Next we read of slapping, spitting, and beard-plucking, which are quite personal forms of torture. What was the Lord’s disposition? He gave Himself to it; a willing victim.
“I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)
Then we come to the torture Christ suffered at the hands of the Romans. Firstly, the scourging. The scourging here is the Roman flogging that was preliminary to every execution. Only women and Roman soldiers would be exempted. The victim was repeatedly lashed across the back with a short whip made of several leather strips, into which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bone were tied. The iron balls caused deep contusions. The sharp pieces tore long furrows. One soldier alternating positions or two soldiers at a time would administer the punishment. Often the soldiers would gauge the victim’s strength and blood loss to determine the number of stripes.
“Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged him.” (John 19:1)
“The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.” (Psalm 129:3)
In mockery of His claim to David’s throne, a crown of thorns was woven, and placed upon His blessed head. A wooden reed was placed in His hand as a mock scepter; then it was taken, and used to beat the thorns into His brow.
“And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand… and they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.” (Matt. 27:29-30)
The Crucifixion. It was the common practice to force the condemned man to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Jesus began that torturous path, but once they had exited the city walls His burden was partially transferred to Simon. John 19 indicates that Jesus carried His cross all the way to the place. We must conclude that Simon carried part of the cross, perhaps the back part, bearing it “after Jesus”. Likely this was because the scourging had physically weakened the Lord, and the soldiers did not want Him to collapse before the crucifixion. This gives us an indication of the intensity of the torture the Lord had already endured up to this point.
“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.” (John 19:17)
“And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.” (Matt. 27:32)
Crucifixion was a method of execution used by the Romans for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. It was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die (Phil. 2:8). Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason. The victim was either tied or more often nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Iron spikes were driven between the wrist bones, and ankle bones. Gravity prevented the victim from using the chest muscles to breathe. Shallow breathing was only possible using the abdominal muscles. A painful pushing up with the legs was required to exhale. The intention was to inflict rapidly increasing pain to achieve a prolonged, agonizing death. Death usually came by asphyxiation which was hastened in some cases by breaking of the legs below the knee, as was the case with the two thieves. Crucifixion is referred to in scripture as being “lifted up” (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32), as “hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13), and as “stretching forth the hands” (John 21:18).
“They crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” (John 19:18)
His Death as a Martyr. We must remember that the life of the Lord Jesus was not taken from Him. In Exodus 12:46 we read; “Neither shall ye break a bone thereof…” Not a bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken. This scripture is quoted in John 19:33-36 in connection with the Lord being dead before the soldiers reached Him with their clubs. To break a bone of the lamb would introduce the thought of “crushing” or forcibly ending life. It was imperative that Christ lay down His own life in obedience to His Father’s will (John 10:18). No man took it from Him. And yet, while no man took His life from Him, God holds man responsible for their intentions… murder. Accordingly, in the book of Revelation, Jesus appears as “a lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). The symbol of a “slain lamb” has the idea of an innocent victim subjected to a violent death. It says in Zech. 12:10 that Israel “shall look upon me whom they have pierced”. God holds them responsible.
The Death of the Cross. In Philippians 2, we find that death – and specifically, the death of the cross – was the ultimate humiliation for our Lord.
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8)
The cross in scripture is always the symbol of shame in the eyes of the world. But, far be it from the Christian to boast in anything that this world glories in. Our only boast is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14), because we owe all our peace, our blessing, our security to that work which He accomplished.
By crucifying the Lord between two malefactors, His enemies were associating Him with evildoers. The difference between Jesus and the thieves is summarized best in the words of the repentant thief; “we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:41). This indignity was suffered by our blessed Lord until His death. After He bowed His head and gave up His spirit, a Roman spear pierced His side (evidently an action taken by one of the four soldiers to verify that He was really dead, John 19:32-34) and “immediately there came out blood and water”. After this, men had the wicked intention of throwing His blessed body in a criminal’s grave, but the Father saw to it that the only hands that touched His body were kind and loving ones. Even His tomb was fit for a rich man!
“And men appointed his grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death, because he had done no violence, neither was there guile in his mouth.” (Isa. 53:9)
All of Christ’s sufferings that we have touched on thus far (moral, sympathetic, official, interpersonal, martyrdom) did not take away even one sin. What Christ endured all through His lifetime, His public ministry, and up until 12:00 o’clock noon on that Passover day was more than our paltry minds can take in… and yet it was not even a drop in the ocean of what He suffered in the three hours of darkness. This is what we come to next; the atoning sufferings. But first, before the atoning sufferings, we must mention another aspect of His sufferings: that suffering which Christ endured as He anticipated those three hours.
Aspect #6. Anticipative Sufferings
Christ’s Anticipative Sufferings are what Christ passed through as He looked forward to the cross, and to the work of atonement which would be accomplished there. These sufferings intensified as the cross loomed nearer, but we see them concentrated in the garden of Gethsemane. Anticipative suffering is not merely worry. It is to deeply feel what is approaching. These sufferings are important for a number of reasons. First, they reveal the perfection of Christ in His humanity. He had a choice about the cross, and He submitted Himself to His Father’s will. Second, they give us a sense of what the atoning sufferings meant to our Lord’s holy soul. God clothed the scene of atonement with darkness that no mortal eye might see. But we are permitted to “watch” the anticipative sufferings.
The Abandonment of Calvary Looming Ahead. When the Lord entered Jerusalem five days before the Passover, we read that He was anticipating a dreadful “hour”, which refers to the hour of His atoning sufferings. The thought of being “made sin” caused His soul to be deeply troubled. And yet the Lord’s purpose up until that moment was to glorify the Father’s name; and so He would not officially make request for an exemption from the cross.
“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. There came therefore a voice out of heaven, I both have glorified and will glorify it again. ” (John 12:27-28)
Four days later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we find that His anticipative sufferings have intensified. The cross and the atoning sufferings were closing in quickly, and the picture is much darker still. The Lord then requests exemption, and yet He adds “if it be possible” and “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done”. Also, in John 12 He gets an audible answer, “a voice out of heaven” which looked on to the Lord’s resurrection. But at Gethsemane the Lord could only pronounce that it was “your hour, and the power of darkness”.
“And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?” Mark 14:33-37
The English expression “exceeding sorrowful” is one Greek word, peri-lupos, which literally means, ‘surrounded with sorrow.’
Not my will. Except on this occasion in the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord never expressed His will as different from His Father’s will. Here, and nowhere else, we find that the Son’s will was different. Why? Because He could not find His “meat” or satisfaction in the wrath of God. And yet, the Lord could say;
- “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me” (John 4:34)
- “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me“ (John 5:30)
- “I came down… not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me“ (John 6:38).
He would have shrunk back from the cup if He could have done so consistently with His Father’s will. But His love and devotion to His Father was stronger than every other motivation. The perfect obedience of the Son rose to new heights in His submission to the Father’s will in the matter of atonement.
The Son Appealing to His Father. In the extremity of His anticipative sufferings, Jesus cried out “Abba Father”. This is the only recorded place where Jesus used the word “Abba”, which is the old Aramaic word for ‘father’ in the intimate sense, similar to the English word ‘daddy’. It’s speaks of the closeness of the relationship a child has with his father. How striking that this is the word the Lord used in crying to His Father in anticipation of the atoning sufferings! He called on His Father in that most intimate way, pleading for exemption, if that were possible. He acknowledged “all things are possible unto thee”. The Lord appealed to the power of God, as well as His love. All the power of God would not avail to take away one sin; a sacrifice was necessary!
His Sweat. In our Lord’s anticipative sufferings we see His perfection as a man. The more He felt the depths of the dreadful cup, the “more earnestly” He prayed. Both the prayers and sufferings rose in intensity, to a point where Luke says that Jesus was “in an agony” and “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). This fact demonstrates the reality of His sufferings. So intense were the sufferings in His soul and mind that blood vessels began to burst. It isn’t that His sweat fell merely in the same way great drops of blood fall, but that His sweat was so mingled with blood that it might have seemed to be pure blood falling to the ground.
His Tears. We have mentioned our Lord’s having a troubled soul, His being sore amazed, His soul being exceeding sorrowful unto death, His agony, and His sweat mingled with blood. But He also shed tears. If His sweat portrays the agony of His soul, then His tears portray the sorrow of His heart.
“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Heb. 5:7-9)
Watch with me one hour. Jesus had taken three disciples with Him to pray. He desired their company, if not their sympathy in His sufferings. But coming to them, He found that they were asleep. “Couldest thou not watch one hour?” He doesn’t ask us to ‘understand’ the cost to Him; but simply to ‘watch with Him’. I would like to make an application of this to us today. If we are going through life carelessly sinning, it is because we are asleep. We are not watching with Him; for, if we were, we would be “sore amazed” as we consider what our sins cost the blessed Savior. In 1804 Thomas Kelly included this thought in the following verses of his beloved hymn:
“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”
by Thomas Kelly, 1804
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.
Aspect #7. Atoning Sufferings
Christ’s Atoning Sufferings are what Christ endured on the cross to put away sin in three hours of darkness. At Gethsemane the Lord came to terms with his Father about the cross, but at Calvary He paid the debt. For all the sufferings that came before this awful hour, our minds can only begin to comprehend. But that which Christ suffered to make expiation for sin transcends the powers of the human mind, and the confines of the human heart.
Three parts to Atonement. It is important to understand that there are three parts to atonement; the sufferings, death, and blood-shedding. The sufferings of Christ at the hand of God, both to bear the punishment that we deserved and to render a perfect satisfaction to God, were required to make atonement. But if He had come down from the cross after the three hours, atonement still would not be complete. In the death of Christ, we have His whole Person offered up as a sacrifice to God. The death of the Victim was required. Then His blood was shed; blood which contained all the value of His atoning-sufferings and atoning-death. The blood from the scourging, the nail prints, and the crown of thorns was shed before the atoning sufferings and death. It was the blood that flowed from the side of a dead Christ that contained all the value of His sufferings in three dark hours, and all the value of His life offered up to God in death. Atonement could not be accomplished without all three of these components. But the subject at hand is the atoning sufferings, which is the first of the three components.
Two Aspects of the Atoning Sufferings.
One part of His work, called substitution,
dealt with our sins (plural); but there was another part of His work, called propitiation,
that dealt with the whole question of sin (singular) to the glory of God. Read more…
Bearing Our Sins. Our sins were laid upon Christ in a similar way that the sins of the people of Israel were confessed on the head of the sacrifice for a sin offering (Lev. 16:21; Lev. 4). Our sins were transferred to Christ “on the tree”, who “His own self” – no other substitute would do – “bare our sins” under the fiery wrath of God “in His own body” (1 Pet. 2:24). Peter goes on to connect Christ’s sin bearing with the description in Isa. 53, where in v.5 the Spirit uses four types of physical injuries to picture the atoning sufferings of Christ: wounds, bruises, chastisements, and stripes. In this way “Jehovah hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).
Himself a Propitiation. Not only did Christ suffer for our sins, but His soul was made an offering for sin. This is the burnt-offering character of the work of Christ. When sin came into God’s creation, a grievous injury was inflicted against the holiness and majesty of God. Sin coming into the creation did not mar or lesson God’s holiness, for “light” is His essential character, but it nevertheless slighted His name. God’s character must be vindicated. Sin must be put out of His sight, and the effects of sin cleansed from His universe. To meet this demand, Christ offered Himself as a propitiation on the cross. When propitiation is mentioned, it is always connected with Christ offering “Himself” – His whole Person – up as a sacrifice to God. The propitiatory aspect of atonement is all for God, although it was necessary because of our sins (Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). In order to accomplish this, Christ had to be “made sin” for us.
Made Sin for Us. In order to accomplish atonement, Christ had to go into the place of sin; that very thing God hates, which has offended His glory. Christ had to be “made sin” in God’s sight, and judged as sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Only a holy God could know the horror of Christ’s being made sin, “who knew no sin”. With what horror Christ contemplated this prospect in the garden of Gethsemane! There is nothing like it. All the betraying, mocking, and scourging that had been heaped upon Christ cannot be compared to what He suffered as the victim of God’s wrath against sin.
“Jesus felt it all; but the anguish of His trial, where after all He was a calm and faithful witness, the abyss of His sufferings, contained something far more terrible then all this malice or abandonment of man. The floods doubtless lifted up their voices. One after another the waves of wickedness dashed against Him; but the depths beneath that awaited Him, who could fathom? His heart, His soul — the vessel of a divine love — could alone go deeper than the bottom of that abyss which sin had opened for man, to bring up those who lay there, after He had endured its pains in His own soul. A heart that had been ever faithful was forsaken of God. Where sin had brought man, love brought the Lord, but with a nature and an apprehension in which there was no distance, no separation, so that it should be felt in all its fulness. No one but He who was in that place could fathom or feel it.” – J.N. Darby 
The Abandonment. The Lord Jesus had said to His disciples on the previous night, Ye “shall leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). All the way up until noon on the crucifixion day (the sixth hour), the Lord Jesus was able to enjoy perfect communion with His Father. But during the three hours of darkness, from the sixth to the ninth hour, while Christ was made sin and judged for it, He was abandoned by His God. God is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3). “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Iniquity is what separates man from his God (Isa. 59:2), because God can have no sin in His presence. Therefore, God had to turn His face away from His suffering Servant. Although Christ was suffering to bring Him glory, God nevertheless forsook Him – abandoned Him – in those three dark hours. At the close of the three hours we hear those awful words;
“My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Psa. 22:1)
He was completely alone in this suffering. In Psalm 22, the Lord contrasts Himself with others who trusted, and were delivered. But He, though He trusted perfectly, was forsaken in His hour of greatest need. His agony of soul is described: “Save me from the lion’s mouth!” This kind of suffering works expiation; atonement.
Christ’s sufferings from man’s hands do not make up any part of His atoning sufferings. It is true that the sufferings from man culminated at the very same point where God’s wrath is also found (the cross), but:
“…all close and reach their limit here; all stop totally and wholly in their nature short of the wrath and forsaking of God.”
Why does scripture spend so much time on Christ’s sufferings from the hands of man? Perhaps because we can relate to them? They show us how truly Jesus was fully a man. Also, it helps us in our minds transition to the atoning sufferings.
Taking away the Sin of the World. The work of the cross laid the foundation for Christ to not only reconcile lost souls, but also to redeem the fallen creation and cleanse the universe of sin. This is contemplated in the expression of John the Baptist, who said when he saw Jesus coming to him, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The sin of the ‘cosmos’ (or, universe) has not been taken away yet… but one day it will. That work is still future. And the foundation for that cleansing, and for the creation of a new heavens and earth, was laid in the atoning sufferings. This is spoken of in 1 John 2:2, where it says “he is the propitiation… for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The propitiatory aspect of atonement was required to cleanse the universe of sin.
The Suffering of Death. Why was death required for atonement? Because for the weight of our sins to be fully met, death was required. “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15:56), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, it was necessary for Christ to endure “the suffering of death” (Heb. 2:9). But Christ went into death under the sentence of our sins, and rose victorious over death; therefore, the sting is gone! Death no longer holds that meaning for the Christian. Death is but the servant that brings us to Jesus.
Differences between Sufferings at the Hands of Men and God
The Causes of His Sufferings
The first distinction we make when coming to this subject is the source of Christ’s sufferings. Some were at the hands of men, some at the hands of God. From the hands of men, the sufferings of Christ were because of righteousness. “Why slew Cain his brother? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).
The sufferings from the hand of God couldn’t be for righteousness, because God is righteous. Therefore, these sufferings were because of sin. Whose sin? Certainly, not His… He “did no sin” (says Peter), He “knew no sin” (says Paul), and “there was no sin in Him” (says John). Rather, God “made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”. On the cross He suffered “the just for the unjust” that He might bring us to God. There was no cause in Himself for the judgment of God. This is the first great difference between Christ’s sufferings at the hands of man and at the hands of God.
The Effects of His Sufferings
The effect of Christ’s sufferings at the hands of men is judgment upon men. The effect of His sufferings at the hands of God is an unending stream of blessing! This is the second great difference. Also, Christ suffered for sin in our place, so we never would have to do it ourselves. However, in that He suffered for righteousness, we – in some measure – share in those sufferings ourselves.
Psalm 69 vs. Psalm 22
The difference between Christ’s sufferings at the hands of man and at the hands of God can be seen also by comparing Psalm 22 and Psalm 69; two great messianic Psalms that deal with the sufferings of Christ.
In Psalm 69 we see the remnant (and in type the Lord) suffering at the hand of their enemies. The Lord speaks there of how the zeal of God’s house had consumed Him; that He had been faithful to Jehovah. He prays for deliverance from His enemies. But in Psalm 69, He is not forsaken of God. Instead, His prayer to Jehovah is “in an acceptable time” (v.16). He does see that the suffering and enmity heaped upon Him is allowed by God, and in that sense He feels “smitten of God” (v.26) and that Jehovah’s face was “hidden” from him (v.17). But this is not total abandonment, nor are these the atoning sufferings.
In Psalm 22 the sufferings of Christ go far deeper. Certainly, the sufferings at the hands of man are present. He felt those things keenly because they were completely unrighteous. But what sets this Psalm apart is that God has abandoned Him in the midst of suffering. Others had suffered, but trusting in Jehovah they were delivered. Here we see in Christ, in the midst of the atoning sufferings, abandoned by His God!
“But here was a suffering out of the reach of promise. It was a new scene, which none had been ever like, nor ever will be, in the history of eternity; which stands alone, The Righteous One forsaken of God. It cannot be repeated a second time.”
The great difference can be summarized by two expressions. In Psalm 69, in His sufferings at the hands of men, He could say “But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time”. But in Psalm 22, in His sufferings at the hands of God, His sorrowful conclusion is “but thou hearest not”.
The Weight of the Brass, the Weight of the Nails
In the building of the tabernacle, it has been suggested that we see certain types of Christ. The weight of the nails is given; “The weight of the nails was fifty shekels of gold” (2 Chronicles 3:9). Nails might speak of the sufferings of Christ at the hands of men. We cannot help but think of how nails were used to crucify our Lord. Brass in scripture is always a picture of God’s righteous judgment. In Deuteronomy we read that if Israel sinned, “thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass”, representing God’s judgment against sin; “and the earth that is under thee shall be iron”, representing affliction from surrounding countries (Deut. 28:23). Speaking of the Son of man walking between the candlesticks, His feet were “like unto fine brass” (Rev. 1:15). But in the building of the temple, it says; “The weight of the brass could not be found out” (2 Chronicles 4:18). This is a nice picture of the difference between Christ’s sufferings at the hands of man and at the hands of God; while the weight of the nails could be measured, the weight of the brass could not be found out.